Bill Weinberg

Perverse ironies of Honduran political crisis

Talk about bad timing. The US State Department has just certified that the Honduran government has been fighting corruption and supporting human rights, clearing the way for the Central American country to receive millions of dollars in US aid—just as President Juan Orlando Hernández has suspended constitutional rights, unleashed the army on protesters, and imposed a dusk-to-dawn curfew to suppress unrest sparked by his contested re-election. The document, dated Nov. 28 and reported today by Reuters, indicates that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson certified Honduras for the assistance, just two days after the apparently fraudulent election of Washington favorite Hernández.

US to demand arms back from Rojava Kurds

The Donald Trump administration plans to ask Kurdish fighters in Syria to return weapons "loaned" for the fight against ISIS, an unnamed official told Al-Monitor. This was revealed the same day the White House made its first official comment on claims by the Turkish foreign minister that US support for the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) would be coming to an end. "Once we started winning the campaign against ISIS, the plan and part of the process is to always wind down support for certain groups," White House mouthpiece Sarah Huckabee Sanders said at a briefing on Dec. 1. "Now that we're continuing to crush the physical caliphate...we're in a position to stop providing military equipment to certain groups. But that doesn't mean stopping all support of those individual groups."

Hatred of Ahmadis behind Pakistan protests

Islamist leaders in Pakistan agreed Nov. 27 to call a halt to protests that had for nearly two weeks paralyzed Islamabad and other cities in return for the resignation of Law Minister Zahid Hamid. Along with the deal, although seemingly not a part of it, a judicial panel ordered the release of 2008 Mumbai terror suspect Hafiz Saeed from house arrest, sparking angry protests from New Delhi. The protests were led by the Tehreek-i-Labaik Ya Rasool Allah Party, linked to the Barelvi sect of Islam and fronted by the cleric Khadim Hussain Rizvi. The protests were launched over Hamid's proposed changes to the oath taken by incoming lawmakers, omitting the language recognizing Muhammad as God's final prophet. Rizvi called the proposed change "blasphemy," which is a capital offense in Pakistan. Hamid quickly backtracked, calling the omission of the text a clerical error, and had it reinserted. Rizvi's followers still demanded his resignation, and protests reached by point of deadly violence before the deal was struck. In recent days, Islamabad considered calling in the army to clear the streets—raising fears about whether the army would respond, and the prospect of a face-off between the armed forces and civil authorities. (BBC News, NYT, Nov. 25; NYT, Nov. 27)

Syria: 'de-escalation' zones become kill zones

When the Astana "peace" deal for Syria was announced earlier this year, we predicted that the proposed so-called "de-escalation" zones would actually become kill zones. A condition of every "ceasefire" agreement sponsored either by Russia (like the Astana pact) or the US is that the rebels declare war on the Qaeda-linked factions to have emerged from the (now ostensibly disbanded) Nusra Front. But already beseiged by the Assad regime and Russia, the rebels are in no plight to do so—they've been put in an untenable situation. It was clear the Astana plan was not about peace but about propaganda—providing a cover for continuance of the war. So we were grimly vindicated to see the Nov. 18 New York Times headline, "Marked for 'De-escalation,' Syrian Towns Endure Surge of Attacks."

Duterte drug war de-escalation: how real?

The Philippines' notoriously ultra-hardline President Rodrigo Duterte won rare favorable international headlines Oct. 12, when he said he would pull his National Police force out of his brutal "war on drugs," which has now reached the point of mass murder, with an estimated 8,000 slain since he took office last year. The move came in response to a wave of public outrage after the police slaying of an unarmed youth in the working-class Manila suburb of Caloocan City in August.

Indonesia unleashes 'shoot-to-kill' policy

Indonesian President Joko Widodo, following in the bloody footsteps of the Philippines' Rodrigo Duterte, has issued a "shoot-on-sight" policy for drug suspects. The hardline policy comes amid a sudden media blitz about the drug "state of emergency" in the archipelago nation. The new policy is already taking its toll. Amnesty International says it believes at least 60 drug suspects (including at least eight foreigners) have been killed by Indonesian police so far this year—compared with just 18 in all of 2016.

Conviction in Syrian regime war crime —at last

For the first time, after six years of war and escalating atrocities, a member of the Syrian regime's military has been convicted of a war crime. The perpetrator, identified as Mohammad Abdullah, was a low-level soldier who is now in Sweden as a refugee. He was convicted by a Swedish court Oct. 2 of violating human dignity by posing with his boot on a corpse and sentenced to eight months in prison. Abdullah, 32, arrived three years ago in Sweden, where other Syrian refugees recognized him through his Facebook posts and connected him to a photograph he had posted earlier, in which he stands with his boot on the corpse of a man in civilian clothing surrounded by other corpses. As the New York Times notes in its coverage, this is the first conviction of an Assad regime solider in any country, six years after the Syrian revolution was sparked by an incident in which school-children were tortured after painting anti-regime slogans on a wall.

Further internationalization of Syrian war

President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has announced that Turkey is conducting a "landmark" military operation in Syria's Idlib governorate, extending the area brought under the control of Ankara and its rebel allies in last year's Operation Euphrates Shield against ISIS. Now the target is Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS). a formation led by militias to emerge from the former Nusra Front, some with apparent ties to al-Qaeda. (Al Jazeera, Oct. 9; Daily Sabah, Oct. 7) The Euphrates River has emerged as a border between Turkey's de facto "buffer zone"in northern Syria and areas still under Kurdish control—for now. However, Kurdish enclaves still remain west of the river, including the likely flashpoint town of Afrin. (See map.)
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